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Barrow for Congress

In the one tight contest, Dem deserves a shot

Of the many mishaps to befall Georgia Democrats in 2002, the one they most look forward to reversing is the election of Republican Max Burns in the 12th Congressional District.

After all, the 12th -- which stretches from Athens to Savannah and Augusta -- was drawn in 2001 by a Democrat-controlled Legislature with a Democratic candidate in mind.

Unfortunately, that candidate was "Champ" Walker, the less-than-impressive son of then-state Sen. Charles Walker. The junior Walker managed to lose to Burns, an obscure business professor with little political experience.

Two years later, Burns wears a big, red bull's eye that can be seen all the way from Washington. The 12th is the most Democratic-leaning congressional district represented by a Republican -- not just in Georgia, but in the nation. And it's not as if Burns is a moderate; he's voted in predictable lockstep with GOP hardliners.

Burns didn't do his campaign much good last month when he sent constituents a taxpayer-funded letter claiming he'd "created" the Department of Homeland Security. Apart from the statement's stunning arrogance, there's the minor fact that the department was created a full two months before he entered Congress. His aides were unable to explain the gaffe to the Savannah Morning News -- or even offer a decent guess as to what the letter meant to say. Adding to the pile-on, the national League of Conservation Voters last month named Burns to its "Dirty Dozen," a list of the country's most environmentally unfriendly politicians.

Burns' likely defeat next month by Democrat John Barrow already is being cheered by Dems and mourned by state Republicans (off the record, of course). A Harvard-educated attorney, Barrow is an Athens-Clarke County commissioner who has strong support from environmentalists and abortion-rights advocates.

Many liberal voters feel betrayed by Barrow's pandering to right-wing voters in a recent announcement that he supports amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage. We certainly don't admire the weakness Barrow has shown in endorsing bigotry, presumably to make himself acceptable to socially conservative, middle-class voters.

Nonetheless, it's clear that he'd serve as a far more competent representative for those middle-class voters than Burns has -- especially on pocketbook issues like taxes, health care and childcare.

Georgia's other contested congressional races appear more lopsided, with most candidates having cleared their hurdles in the primaries. That reflects the polarized electorate and the tack of both parties nowadays in redistricting, which amounts to making hospitable districts for extreme partisans.

Somewhat competitive is the 11th District contest between GOP incumbent Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Democrat Rick Crawford, a Cedartown attorney. With the absurdly gerrymandered 11th -- which snakes through Rome, Marietta and Columbus -- growing increasingly Democratic, the right-wing Gingrey's days in the seat are numbered. Nov. 2 is unlikely to be his Waterloo, however, and Crawford, a political neophyte with few ties outside Polk County, is no Wellington.

But voters concerned that Georgia's Republican congressmen are acting less like their representatives than zombies under the spell of ethically challenged GOP House Leader Tom DeLay might achieve something by turning out strongly for Crawford. A close race could take a bit of the hubris off Gingrey's obedience to the jackbooted DeLay. It might even get Gingrey to move toward the center on one or two issues. And a strong turnout for Crawford would likely encourage a more experienced, better-financed opponent to challenge Gingrey in 2006.

Then, there's District 3, centered around Macon in Middle Georgia. Because the district is split almost 50/50 politically, one-term Democratic incumbent Jim Marshall, an attorney with a strong military background, might have been vulnerable to a stronger GOP opponent.

But Calder Clay, whom Marshall beat by a mere 1 percent two years ago, has run such a negative campaign that he seems to have turned off even die-hard Republicans. The latest polls -- by both sides -- show Marshall with at least a 10-point (and as much as 29-point) lead.

Because of the partisan breakdown of the districts, Georgia's 10 other congressional contests are all but decided.

Among Republican incumbents, only Charlie Norwood, in northeast Georgia's District 9, has shown meaningful independence from the DeLay-led, special-interest feeding frenzy. Norwood has offered thoughtful votes and occasional leadership on trade, health care and other issues of interest to middle-class families. Though he's ailing from a rare lung disease, we believe Norwood has earned the vote over inexperienced Democrat Bob Ellis.

Sanford Bishop, a southwest Georgia middle-of-the-road incumbent, and Cynthia McKinney, a far-left former representative from DeKalb County -- are set to beat weak Republican opponents in their heavily Democratic districts. Similarly, Republican nominee Lynn Westmoreland will coast to victory in District 8, which runs south from Atlanta's southern suburbs and now is represented by Mac Collins.

Republican incumbents Nathan Deal, Jack Kingston and John Linder, and Democratic incumbents John Lewis and David Scott face no opposition. Neither does Republican nominee Tom Price in north metro's District 6.

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